This ExxonMobil facility is at the heart of a controversy surrounding the Louisiana Attorney General's Office.© Stephen C. Kowal
The public campaign to get the Attorney General to rehire Willie has intensified. On May 16, the national environmental organization Clean Water Action sent out an e-mail alert to its membership and generated more than 1,000 messages to Attorney General Foti in a single week. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance and Friends of the Earth are also busy preparing e-mail action alerts to their members.
On May 20, Sally Hillsman, the executive officer of the American Sociological Association, also sent an open letter to Louisiana Attorney General Foti on behalf of the entire ASA. She wrote, “The Association’s concern with academic freedom extends to individualrights of due process and legitimate grievances that play an importantrole in protecting our freedom to learn, teach and research.“This June, the American Public Health Association gave Fontenot a national award at its upcoming annual convention in New Orleans before an audience of 13,000 public health officials and advocates from all across the country.
All of us involved in this campaign are hopeful that this outpouring of public support for Willie Fontenot will encourage Atto
rney General Foti to rehire him in the very near future. Yet, Marylee Orr, the director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and ANE’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program have also devised a “Plan B” in case the Attorney General decides not to take the high road. We are creating a Willie Fontenot Support Fund that has already raised more than $12,000 in pledges to help offset his lost wages. Checks from all over the country have come into my office in the last 10 weeks—in amounts ranging from $25 to $300, and now totaling $2,500.
Organizations like Antioch New England’s Environmental Advocacy Program, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Clean Water Action, and the Louisiana Labor to Neighbor Project have each pledged $1,000 to $2,000 to the fund from their budgets. The Delta Chapter (Louisiana) of the Sierra Club also pledged $5,000 to the fund and has requested that the Club’s national board match the state chapter’s contribution. Several of these organizations have also agreed to contact their major funding sources to raise additional monies for the support fund if needed.
[Editors’ note: Spokesperson Kris Wartelle of the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office denies that an ultimatum was ever given to Fontenot, and says she doesn’t know why he announced his retirement. Wartelle says leading tours of refineries was actually not part of Fontenot’s job with the Attorney General’s Office, and appears to be something he did “on the side” as either a volunteer or a consultant, although he may have led such tours during his work hours. According to Wartelle, “The Attorney General wants to work with Willie and see it all work out well, but doesn’t appreciate discussion in the media of the details of whether they’ll meet or what they talk about. Those are private issues that have to do with Willie’s employment, and we are prohibited by law from talking about ongoing personnel matters.”
Wartelle says an internal investigation is underway on Willie Fontenot—including on what arrangements, if any, he might have had with past Attorney Generals to lead tours. “He was well respected and liked, and we hope this can be resolved,” she says. “This situation is not even close to what these groups have blown it up to be.”]
Steve Chase co-led the “Environmental Justice in the Mississippi Delta” field studies trip to Louisiana this past March and is the director of Antioch New England’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program. For more information on the campaign to defend Willie Fontenot, you can write Steve at email@example.com.